WASHINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Senior U.S. Justice Department officials are weighing whether to drop a major case
that involved a sting operation to try to catch executives
paying bribes to win lucrative contracts for military equipment,
a prosecutor said on Tuesday.
The case encountered several setbacks along the way.
U.S. authorities arrested 22 people two years ago and accused
them collectively of trying to bribe two men who posed as
representatives of Gabon's defense ministry to win $15 million
in deals to provide guns, body armor and other equipment. The
representatives were actually FBI agents.
The case was broken into several trials, however. Two have
ended in mistrials and three individuals have been acquitted.
Three others caught in the undercover operation and a fourth man
tied to the group have already pleaded guilty.
The head of the agency's criminal division, Lanny Breuer,
and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen are
evaluating "whether to continue to go forward" with the case,
prosecutor Joseph Lipton told U.S. District Judge Richard Leon
At Lipton's request, Leon agreed to a two-week delay for
Breuer and Machen to make a decision, giving them until Feb. 21.
The third trial was supposed to begin at the end of the month.
The Justice Department could also decide to proceed with the
case - including retrying those involved in the mistrials - or
try to seek plea agreements.
The group has been charged with conspiracy and for violating
the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits
the payment of bribes to foreign officials in order to secure
However, in the last trial, which lasted more than two
months, Judge Leon threw out the conspiracy charge.
The FCPA case was seen as groundbreaking at the time it was
unsealed because it was the first time prosecutors had used a
sting operation on such a large scale in a bribery case.
During the two-and-a-half-year investigation, which involved
some 250 FBI agents, the arms sales representatives were told
they would have to add a 20 percent commission to their price
quotes, which would essentially serve as bribes.
Those who were arrested included a former U.S. Secret
Service agent. He was acquitted last week.
The case is USA v. Goncalves et al, No. 09-cr-335, in U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia.
For the USA: Glenn Leon, Joey Lipton, laura Perkins and
Matthew Solomon of the U.S. Department of Justice, Harold
Walther of Jones Day and Jonathan Haray, Matthew Graves and Seth
Waxman of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
For Goncalves: Charles Leeper of Drinker Biddle & Reath and
John Matson III, Jeremy Margolis and Robert Andalman of Loeb &
(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky)
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